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Construction sector defends labour accord

The construction industry wants to open up the labour market Keystone Archive

The construction sector says companies could suffer if the labour market is not opened up to workers from ten new European Union member states.

The Master Builders’ Association said it felt betrayed by the decision of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party on Saturday not to support the accord.

At a meeting on Thursday in the Swiss capital, Bern, the association said that opening up the Swiss labour market would help encourage growth in the domestic economy.

“The free movement of people will provide opportunities for our export industry and give it the same chances as its foreign competitors,” said the association’s president, Werner Messmer.

He added that the domestic construction sector relied on a healthy Swiss economy.

As for the measures accompanying the labour accord, these were important because they helped fight wage dumping – one of the industry’s greatest fears, said Messmer.

Harsh words

But the association’s president had harsh words for those – including the People’s Party – who are trying to drum up support for a referendum against the move.

On Saturday, the People’s Party voted overwhelmingly against extending the free movement of people to the new – and mostly eastern European – EU member states.

Delegates argued that there would be “uncontrolled immigration” or that Switzerland’s democratic values would come under threat.

Messmer slammed the People’s Party’s attitude as “incomprehensible”. He said the party was placing jobs in jeopardy and that there was a risk of many companies moving abroad if the accord was not accepted.

He warned that the whole first set of bilateral agreements – of which the free movement of people is a part – would also be threatened.

“This would inevitably lead to diminished consumer consumption and investment, to higher unemployment and social security costs, but above all, to less work for the construction industry,” said Messmer.

Parliamentary support

In December, parliament voted to extend the free movement of people to the new EU member states. Unions and private banks also support the move.

But the far-right Swiss Democrats have already announced that they will mount a ballot box challenge to the protocol.

They need 50,000 signatures to force a nationwide vote on the parliamentary decision, a ballot which could be held as early as June this year.

swissinfo with agencies

Since June 1 last year, 24,000 EU workers have come to Switzerland.
40 per cent of them work in construction.
The struggling construction sector recorded some progress last year, but profits remain low.

The free movement of people came into force last June as part of the first set of bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU.

An additional protocol calls for the inclusion of the ten new EU member states into this agreement.

The first bilateral accords cover 11 issues from taxation to agriculture, but the labour accord is the most controversial.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR